Fla. paramedic battling for life, needs heart transplant
Firefighter-paramedic Dale McNeil was diagnosed with a degenerative heart disease in October; he is currently in a medically-induced coma
By Jorge Milian
The Palm Beach Post
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Dale McNeill has delivered babies, brought overdose victims back to life and performed other similar miracles during 18 years as a Palm Beach County paramedic.
Now it’s the 44-year-old West Palm Beach native who needs a little help.
On Oct. 25, McNeill went for his annual physical. An EKG showed an abnormality. McNeil, an avid swimmer with no prior health issues, scoffed at the finding.
“We just kind of thought, ‘Somewhere there’s an error,’ because he felt absolutely fine,” Chris Webb, McNeil’s newlywed wife, said Thursday.
There was no error. By Nov. 10, McNeill was at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital in a medically induced coma and fighting for his life.
The diagnosis? Giant cell myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that occurs for unknown reasons.
“It’s a disorder that’s rare, rapidly progressive, and can be quite fatal,” said Dr. Phillip Habib, an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at Delray Medical Center.
McNeil remains heavily sedated in Jackson’s intensive care unit while doctors work to improve his condition enough to place him on a heart-transplant waiting list.
According to the National Organizations of Rare Disorders, there are only 300 recorded cases of giant cell myocarditis in medical literature.
“He won the lottery,” said Andy McNeill, one of Dale’s two older brothers. “He just won the wrong lottery.”
What was supposed to be one of the happiest times in the lives of McNeill and Webb has turned into one of the most challenging.
They met four years ago at Boca Raton’s dog beach after Webb’s mutt chased McNeill’s pooch into the water.
The two began a conversation that blossomed into love.
“We knew pretty quickly that this was it for us,” said Webb, a real-estate developer. “Dale turned my world upside down.”
For the past year, the couple planned a beach wedding scheduled for Nov. 5. They canceled those plans days before the wedding to concentrate on the larger issue of McNeill’s health.
But after a 10-day stint in the hospital, McNeill woke up Nov. 5 in the Delray Beach home he shares with Webb and announced, “I think we should be married today.”
Before an audience consisting of the couple’s three dogs, McNeill and Webb exchanged rings and vows while tying the knot in their living room.
Within days, McNeill was on life support.
His brother said McNeill has undergone at least a dozen major procedures and surgeries “and I’m probably forgetting a few.”
The McNeills have deep roots in Palm Beach County. Sam McNeill, Dale’s late father, was a dentist in West Palm Beach for 50 years. Dale and his two brothers graduated from Forest Hill High School.
Dale McNeill attended Florida State University after high school but changed course to become a paramedic. He works at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Station 24 in the Westgate neighborhood near Palm Beach International Airport.
“Dale decided he wanted to serve people,” Andy McNeill said. “He loves what he does. Our goal is to get him where he needs to be so he can do it again.”
Getting there means finding McNeill a new heart and footing the astronomical bills that are sure to follow. A crowdfunding account — www.youcaring.com/teamdale — has been set up and had raised more than $40,000 as of Friday morning.
Webb, 39, has stopped working while she attends to McNeill. She’s living in a hotel room near the hospital and spends part of each day reading the sports section to her husband, who is a big FSU football fan.
Webb plans to hold a bowl party in McNeill’s hospital room Dec. 30 when FSU faces Michigan in the Orange Bowl and said her fondest wish is to celebrate her 40th birthday this month with her husband.
“What I would like for my Christmas-birthday present is to hop in his bed and for us to be able to look at each other,” Webb said. “Just that.”
Copyright 2016 The Palm Beach Post